I love stories and Cambodia has plenty of them. Some of amazing feats, some of horror and some; miracles. Among the millions of tourist that visit every year, I was one.
Cambodia boasts an average of 1 million tourist every year. I could definitely understand why. It is unique in every way, the art, the culture, the tradition and definitely the architecture. Buddhism is the state religion but you can see influences in it also drawn from Hinduism and therefore its unique architecture and culture. At first i was mainly attracted by the opportunity to see the temples of Angkor (mainly Angkor Wat, considered one of the wonders of the world) but it has much more to offer. People are warm with ready smiles, there are lots of stories to absorb everywhere, food is available in every corner in various ranges of budget (beer is the cheapest though, $.50 for a glass of local draught beer :P) and you can feast on all the beautiful structures there. Some from the french colonial times, some traditional and the best of all, the temples.
We could get in 3 nights at Phnom Penh. It is understanding that Cambodia is still developing and has a lot of potential in future given their history of wars with neighbouring countries, colonisation and civil war under the Khmer Rouge. However their architecture has been amazing right from the Angkorian times. In Phnom Phen, the Royal Palace sets an example with its traditional design, its glittering golden roofs, the murals on the wall telling us stories of the ancient. Visitors are only allowed to the Throne Hall but you will get to see the temple of Emerald Buddha (also called the silver pagoda after its silver tiled floor) in the compound.
Yet another amazing thing i found out was the Tonle
Sap river. They tell us that the Mekong river that starts from the Tibetan Plateau flows backwards into the Tonle Sap river and up to form the lake at Siem Reap. During the dry season it drains back into the Mekong. We could sit by the bank watching the beautiful sunset after a day of excitement.
When its time for dinner, the night market here is an interesting experience. You get served on the floor. The eating area is covered with mats on which you can relax and eat. There are no tables and chairs. Its back to the basics. 😛
Off course again, you cannot understand Cambodia
if you do not visit the killing fields. The Choeung Ek killing filed has now become a tourist attraction. The place holds a beautiful tower just in front but inside it, lies the bones of many dead. The place looks serene today but has been a witness to gruesome and most inhuman killings. Mass graves of some 8000 people lie here. Nobody was spared, not women, not children. It is indeed a very sad story and to think that this was not really that long ago (1975-1979). Imagine.
From Phnom Penh, we took the Mekong Express to Seam Reap. It took around 8 hours including the stops. Tickets were $12 per person. There are options of more comfortable buses and also mini vans but we decided to take this one as it has toilet. It takes care of my worry of having to pee often. (:P)
Seam Reap is again quite something. There are rows of pubs along the pub street and restaurants serving a range of food from around the world. There is the night market just nearby selling handicrafts, lots of restaurants to choose your meal from and when you are tired, you can even get fish massages.
And finally, the most famous temples of Angkor. This is the finest example of Khmer
architecture. Angkor called the city of temples and was the ancient capital of the empire. Most of the temples are in ruins today but restoration is ongoing. The place is around 5 kms from Siem Reap. So we hired a tuk tuk for the day to take us around Angkor. There are many amazing temples but the most famous being Angkor Wat which was built by king Suryavarman II for his eventual mausoleum. It is said to have been designed to represent mount meru from the hindu mythology.
Its the end of our trip but we have room for more adventure. We decided to take the bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok. It cost us $8 each for the ticket. The bus dropped us to Poipet, the border of Cambodia. Before we alighted, the driver stuck a red sticker onto our shirt so that our transfer from Thailand could recognise us. And all the time i am in fear of this sticker falling out and us being left at Poipet. Crazy.
We walked in through the Cambodian immigration and then walked another 10 minutes till the Thailand border to its immigration. The whole process took us around 3 hours. Its best by air if you want to avoid the hassel. After the immigration, we walk to Aryanaprathet (Thailand border town) where we are loaded into a truck with our luggage to be taken to the mini van station. Finally this is where we catch the minivan for our final leg of the journey to Bangkok. It was quite daunting. We started at 7.30 from Siem Reap and when we were at Bangkok, it was around 11.00 pm. I am not sure i will do this again but for $8, I cant complain.
An adventurous and an eye opening trip. Not all people are as fortunate, not everyone has a peaceful life, some struggle to find their calling, some just to live and all glories are mired with shadows.